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Sport 39: 2011

Uninvited Tribute: Eight Uneasy Pieces

page 52

Uninvited Tribute: Eight Uneasy Pieces

The Christchurch earthquake, and reading Terry Sturm, again brought to mind the importance of Lyttelton in Curnow’s biography, and its resonances in his poetry. So much of his work considers the tracking of time and its drum-beat conclusion, as it quarries threat and apprehension and self-defining; and builds on that cleared space of what Anglicanism had meant to him, and what its language continued to bear once doctrine lost purchase. I remember a story told to me by Fred Page, pianist and professor, brother of the famous cricketer ‘Curly’ Page. Fred was a schoolmate of Curnow’s in Lyttelton, where his father was a coal merchant. He recalled Allen’s early shame, when he once came to school without shoes. Rightly or wrongly, I cannot help but relate that anecdote to Curnow’s prickliness and pride, both inseparable from his qualities as a poet. Recent photographs of his father’s shattered church, and the fractured remains of ‘the time-ball’ tower which survive in the poetry, are vivid reminders of the boyhood world Curnow circled in numerous ways. The poems I call ‘Uninvited Tribute’ are a kind of hommage to a not altogether likeable man (I knew him only slightly), but our finest poet. I suspect he may have regarded anything so unrequested as an impertinence, especially as much of their imagery purposely derives from his own.

page 53

Uninvited Tribute: Eight Uneasy Pieces


Blood clouding (by rumour) the lipped chalice,
salting (taste it!) the broad bay’s shelving off,

brimming too the victim’s eye with west’s
impending wrack, shadows silked as

te mako’s cruising, closer in by far.

Pretty much, pretty much as is,
the refrain falling as a flung stick
for a bitch’s late run morsing
the beach’s narrowing stretch,
                       belling vespers’
high memo, as Father once lofted
      Lessons, boy, to be learned!


tall as talked-up tallness
in the child’s knee-high version

the author of all clenched close
as a favourite marble

ancestors loading the skyline
at ease as stone.
page 54 What you touch is what you
            what you see
is the eye opening, radiant
paddocks otherwise special
                  than in scything hymns.
The harbour’s bright bill of lading
taking time on tick.


And spring, let the season
spare the boy’s bare-heeled
bracing of cold in Lyttelton
shame as Fred Page read
it, church-poor and poorer
than the coalyard’s brothers,
the cricketer, the pianist,
who at least clanged boots.
though tempered nicely
given time, given times,
the boy’s to the end and beyond
good as newly rung.
Page insisting, ‘Vain
at that age even,’ playgrounds
reminisced, the iron-clappered
pealing from father & Father
to ensuing sons.
                    The steeple
on course to be fractured,
the time-ball crazed.
And the shock of the poems,
writes Allen,
              scores still to come.

page 55


A wet wind rumours the macrocarpa
proposing nothing but itself.
                  A branch cracks.
A bird’s damp flut. Light
talks through rain.
               Much as pyramids,
as duomos, up to the same lurk, wind
urging on,
           the instant barked to heel.
to the pit’ as they call at the Met,
awaiting the beat, assuming il mundo
magnifico’s scoring, delivering time.


‘Not a nice lad, especially.’
S                       o?
The boy unpacking language, his special meccano,
flexing the big tin pieces, defting tiny screws.
‘See what I build for myself’ is the morning’s news.
A which is his to begin with, down to Z in tow.


As Stevens your closest wordmate plied you,
‘There is no such thing as innocence in autumn.’
The old labels float, the brand names wear.
Poets inclining, picturesquely, to scuff at leaves,
call variants of red by their variable names,
testing the touch of what remains in mind.
page 56 ‘So it goes,’ breath flaring through the lot,
a man with his fires smoking out the night,
‘Words to enflame,’ as he says, the fun of the phrase
refuting the by-heart preacher, ‘This takes care of time.’
One spark feeding another, the point of rhyme.


The cliff face bleeds, the wound is personal.
The slaughtering wrist aches with expertise.
Myth slips its scarlet needles to the harbour’s vein.
The business of breath catches at vacated space.
How a late stroll to the west shoulders sharking dark.
How the whole damned empyrean makes its move!


              as if you’d have tossed it
a second word, as if privacy wasn’t
bunkered in each public stanza,
as if nailing as good as a century
with the scorer’s crest
                 wasn’t tribute drilled
from the only well that pays:
                    as if Self
spelled out in increasing type
hadn’t pressed you as surrogate Adam,
the one world launched to a tongue’s fathom,
on cue each calling
                    necessary once named.